By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Pope Francis’ first encyclical is the inspiring document entitled Laudatio Si. This unique title is drawn from the beginning of the canticle of Saint Francis of Assisi that addresses God the Creator. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.” Pope Francis is calling on all of humankind, especially those of the Christian faith to care for our common home.
This encyclical should come as no surprise. On March 19, 2013, on the feast of Saint Joseph, in his inaugural homily with religious and national leaders present from all over the world, Francis proclaimed Jesus Christ to all the nations in the spirit of the great saint from Assisi whose name he chose.
In his prophetic homily he mentioned care for creation, our common home, nine times. This struck me as remarkable theme in an inaugural address with countless millions viewing throughout the world, and joyfully praying with the first Pope from the Americas.
Pope Francis spoke eloquently about Saint Joseph, the protector of Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary. “The core of the Christian vocation is Jesus Christ. Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, protect Creation.” Francis continues. “This is something human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us, as Saint Francis showed us.”
Embodying the spirit of Saint Francis, Francis of Rome is pleading with us “to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves.” He concludes his homily as if conducting a symphony, “so that the Star of Hope will shine brightly, let us protect with love all that God has given us.”
The Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Guadium, Francis’ first Apostolic Letter is the beginning and end of all that he is doing, teaching, and preaching. Jesus Christ is mankind’s joy and hope, and all who are baptized in His name are called to be missionary disciples, joyful witnesses of the Lord of history, especially where the Cross is most evident. Laudatio Si emerges from Evangelii Guadium as daylight flows from the dawn of a new day. The seeds of both are contained in Francis’ inaugural homily on the Feast of Saint Joseph. “The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters.” (Evangelii Guadium)
In Laudatio Si Pope Francis is speaking as a spiritual and moral leader calling each of us to more fully answer the call to care for others and to care for God’s creation. It is a summons to “profound interior conversion” by recognizing with humility the results of human activity unmoored from God’s design. It is an integral ecology that further develops the teachings of the Church, most notably since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Let us look at two examples, although there are many more.
On the occasion of the annual celebration of the World Day of Peace on January 1, 1990, Pope Saint John Paul II offered a vision of this integral ecology as a message of hope and peace to the world. “Theology, philosophy and science all speak of a harmonious universe, of a cosmos endowed with its own integrity, its own internal, dynamic balance. This order must be respected. The human race is called to explore this order, to examine it with due care and to make use of it while safeguarding its integrity.”
On November 14, 1991, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published the document entitled Renewing the Earth which addresses this holistic understanding of the crises and opportunities facing the modern world. “At its core the environmental crisis is a moral challenge.
It calls us to examine how we use and share the goods of the earth, what we pass on to future generations, and how we live in harmony with God’s creation.” The Bishops then and now “want to stimulate dialogue, particularly with the scientific community. We know these are not simple matters; we speak as pastors… Above all, we seek to explore the links between concern for the person and for the earth, between natural ecology and social ecology. The web of life is one.”
What is astounding is that Pope Francis has chosen the complex reality of an integral ecology as the matter for his first encyclical. This has been on his mind and heart for a long time. Not unexpectedly, those on the left and the right of the political spectrum have offered criticism or have found compatibility with their own world views.
But there is a length and height, breath and depth to this encyclical that cannot be worthily addressed through sound bites or superficial analysis. As he has done from the beginning of his election Pope, Francis encourages dialogue and encounter with respect and humility.
As with Evangelii Guadium, Laudatio Si requires a commitment from each of us to read it, pray about it, dialogue about it, and allow it to shape us as missionary disciples in God’s fragile yet resilient world, our common home. This is an encyclical to which we will return often. “And God saw that it was very good.” (Genesis)
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz